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Showing posts from August, 2010

Movie Night at the Farm

Last night, we hosted our first "Movie Night at the Farm" - we watched the documentary "Sweetgrass."  For more information, go to:  The movie is about a family sheep operation that trails sheep through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in Montana.  We watched it with friends, our interns, and interns from other farms.

The movie itself was wonderful.  It was filmed without narration, and it took us from lambing through shearing to the actual trailing of the sheep.  While it was a much larger flock than ours, my familiarity with the work, the frustrations and the satisfactions made the film especially enjoyable for me.  The movie was made more enjoyable because we watched it as a community - a group of people with common interests.  I hope we'll do more of it!

#*&@$^+ Yellow Starthistle

We just finished a contract grazing job for the Placer Land Trust in the Bowman area of Auburn.  We had 210 ewes on site for 3 weeks - they grazed mostly yellow starthistle, dead annual grasses and clover, along with some coyote bush and blackberry.  At this time of year, when the starthistle is maturing, its spiny seed heads must be high in energy - the sheep love to eat them!  They probably consumed 90-95 percent of the starthistle seed heads at the site.

Yellow starthistle is an introduced annual weed (it came here from central Asia) that in some ways acts like a perennial plant.  It has adapted effectively to out-compete the other annual plants in our rangeland ecosystems - its deep taproot (as deep or deeper than some perennial grasses) can get to soil moisture that other plants can't reach.  It also matures later than most of our annual grasses, allowing it to take advantage of late season moisture (like we had this year).  More than most annual plants, it is physiologically…

Pricing Our Products

The Food and Wine Section of the Sacramento Bee printed an article today comparing prices at local farmers' markets with prices at the grocery store (for the full article, go to  While the reporter admittedly didn't conduct a scientific survey, she does compare fairly similar items.  Since one of the items is something we sell (and at the same price cited in the article), I took special notice.  According to the article, our pasture-raised chicken is too expensive at $3.99/lb. - the grocery store she visited had pastured chicken for $2.69/lb.

Leaving aside the fact that I've never seen a truly pasture-raised chicken in the grocery store (and no, free-range is not the same as pasture-raised), the article made me think about how we price our products.  It also made me wonder if there is value to my customers in their ability to ask me directly how my products were raised.  As a small farmer, I ne…


I'm sure every profession has its share of frustrating circumstances.  One of the more frustrating aspects of selling meat directly to our customers is the fact that we have to rely on others to process our product.  Thanks to federal rules, we have to have our beef, lamb and goat processed at a USDA-inspected facility if we want to sell individual cuts of meat to our farmers' market customers.  We currently work with two processors - one in Dixon and one in Reno.  Both are great to work with - they've both gone out of their way to help us be successful.

Occasionally, however, this relationship hits a bump.  Sometimes we get our product back with the wrong label or the wrong price.  Sometimes we're missing specific cuts of meat.  Today, we're unable to pick up a load of meat because our processor is short-handed and overwhelmed with work.  I know our processors are frustrated  at times by the challenges of working with small scale producers like us, too.

I'm no…

A Little Help From a Friend

Who says goats don't cooperate?!

Back to School

Our girls started back to school today - Lara is in seventh grade and Emma is in second.  They were both excited, nervous, and somewhat sad to see summer end, as were their parents.

Samia and I are fortunate to have businesses that allow us time with our kids and that allow us to work with our kids.  I enjoy working with both girls immensely - they are fun to be around and are increasingly helpful with farm chores.  I miss them when they go back to school.

School used to start in September - the remnant of a more agrarian society.  I don't think that either of our girls has a classmate whose family farms - a big change from 40 years ago!

Sheepherder Fitness Club

By its nature, our work is physically demanding.  Part of this is due to the fact that very little of our work can be mechanized.  Part of it is due to our conscious decision not to use motorized equipment (like 4-wheelers) any more than necessary.  As a consequence, we stay in pretty good physical condition.  Since I've been running sheep commercially, I've tightened my belt 4 or 5 holes!

Our fitness program has been so successful, that we're considering opening the Sheepherder's Fitness Club.  For a small monthly fee, members can join us 3-4 times a week in moving electric fence, cutting and splitting firewood, and moving sheep.  Premium level members can also learn how to shear sheep, load and stack firewood, peel poles, and trim sheep feet.

The Sheepherder Fitness Club offers a unique guarantee.  We guarantee members will lose 10 pounds in the first month ... if they survive!

Pack versus Herd Behavior

We witnessed an interesting example of the interaction between herd behavior (our sheep) and pack behavior (our guard dogs) last week.  We've always been curious as to whether the sheep think the guard dog is the lead sheep or whether the guard dogs think the sheep are part of the pack.  We're still curious, but last week's behavior was incredibly fascinating.

We moved the ewes to a property owned by the Placer Land Trust here in Auburn.  We couldn't get water to them right away, so we herded them to a watering spot daily for their drink.  On the third day on the project, we set up an expanded paddock with a water trough at the top of the hill.  Vegas, our young female guard dog, immediately patrolled the boundaries of the paddock (as our guard dogs typically do) and discovered the water trough.  While she was doing this, we tried to push the sheep out of the shade of a live oak at the bottom of the hill up towards the water.  They didn't want to move.  Vegas came …

Cool Pics - Working Dogs and Grazing Sheep

Here are some cool shots of working dogs and moving sheep!